SACRAMENTO — He was booted out of the Capitol three years ago, but when former Gov. Gray Davis returns today to watch the man who replaced him sworn in for a second term, he'll find an eerie resemblance to what he left behind.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has entrusted onetime Davis aides with his administration's success, appointing them to top jobs. He has embraced policies that Davis favored and settled into a similar governing style.
The Republican incumbent is even beginning to sound a bit like his Democratic predecessor.
Defending his aggressive fundraising, Schwarzenegger has taken to saying that donors are "buying into" his agenda, not the reverse. No slouch at fund-raising himself, Davis defended his pursuit of campaign money in the same terms.
"If you look at where I come down on issues and where Arnold comes down on issues, there's not much space there," Davis, now a corporate lawyer, said in an interview in his Century City office.
Davis said he bumps into Schwarzenegger about once a month -- mostly at parties and California promotional events. In December, he and his wife, Sharon, were invited to First Lady Maria Shriver's launch of a new California Hall of Fame in Sacramento.
The former governor seems fond of Schwarzenegger.
During last year's race for governor, Davis said, he was supposed to throw a fundraising party for the Democratic candidate, Phil Angelides. He said it was an awkward undertaking, and confided to Schwarzenegger at one point: "You're making my life very difficult because all my friends are supporting you. And I'm supposed to have a party for Phil!
"He just laughed," Davis said.
For the Schwarzenegger camp, the 37th governor is always a delicate matter.
During the 2003 recall campaign, Schwarzenegger accused Davis of "terminating" jobs and dreams. But later, as Schwarzenegger's approval ratings collapsed, he began hiring Davis aides in a dramatic bid to turn things around.
When she was Davis' Cabinet secretary, Susan Kennedy essentially ran the government day-to-day. Now, as Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, Kennedy is an even more influential force.
Another Davis official, Daniel Zingale, was hired in 2005 as Shriver's chief of staff. Schwarzenegger recently added to Zingale's duties, making him senior advisor to the governor.
In May, Schwarzenegger named former Davis aide Linda S. Adams as chief of environmental protection
"I'm the only guy left who he hasn't brought on board," joked Garry South, the campaign strategist who helped Davis become governor in 1998.
What the Davis alumni are doing is central to Schwarzenegger's mission. Zingale, with a grounding in healthcare, is one of the main players in Schwarzenegger's bid to expand healthcare coverage, the centerpiece of his 2007 agenda.
Adams will play a role in Schwarzenegger's bid to curb global warming by cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.
Atop the pyramid is Kennedy, largely responsible for repackaging Schwarzenegger as more of a blue-state centrist in advance of the November election.
"I'm very pleased that he chose people for whom I have the highest regard," Davis said.
For all the similarities, Californians clearly see stark differences between the men. In the simplest terms, they find Schwarzenegger likable.
Not so Davis. When his approval ratings plummeted amid the energy and budget crises of his first term, he had no reservoir of public support to stop the slide.
By contrast, Schwarzenegger remains a box office hero to many California voters. But he also made some savvy adjustments after early setbacks.
With Kennedy's guidance, the governor's office neutralized Schwarzenegger's main adversaries. Teachers got state funding they said the governor owed them. Schwarzenegger signed bills favored by Democrats and independent voters.
Davis remains on good terms with his old team.
Pounding a treadmill at the gym one morning with half an ear tuned to the television, he heard a familiar voice on the news. It was Kennedy, talking to her current boss in a recorded conversation that had been leaked to the press.
In one snippet, she was heard candidly assessing the quirks and frailties of state lawmakers -- an awkward public moment for a senior official who prefers working behind the scenes.
Davis, who has endured his share of embarrassments as only the second governor in U.S. history to be recalled, phoned Kennedy to commiserate. They talked for half an hour, Davis said. He counseled her not to worry; this would blow over.
"We've all been there," Davis said.